By Nancy Wood, Contributor
Strains of Beethoven’s “Für Elise” filled the hall, as over 300 people crowded into the sanctuary at All Souls Interfaith Gathering in Shelburne on Nov. 18. Family and friends were there to celebrate the life of Caleb Ladue, who died at age 25 on October 22 while climbing in the Andes. Every chair was occupied and people stood against the walls and overflowed into the hall.
“Für Elise” was one of Caleb’s favorite songs, said his friend and climbing partner Randall Stacy. He recalled the time they were at what they fondly called Camp Ladue, home of Caleb’s parents, Winslow and Mary-Anne Kyburz-Ladue, in Charlotte. After a morning of waterskiing, Caleb sat at the piano and in a few hours had mastered the music. He continued playing it on a regular basis thereafter whenever a piano was handy. It was performed in his memory at Saturday’s celebration by Coby Gatos, father of Caleb’s friend Harrison Gatos.
Caleb’s older brother, Arlin, a professional videographer, showed two videos he had created about his younger brother’s life. In the first, which opened the program, he showed how Caleb came naturally to a life of outdoor sports and mountain adventures. Their father, Winslow, grew up in Plattsburgh, New York, close to Lake Champlain and the Adirondack Mountains. His father, Bill Ladue, was a 46er, having climbed all 46 of the 4,000-foot-plus peaks. (Winslow’s mother, Emily, stopped at 44 peaks, saying, “The views from the other two weren’t worth the climb.”) Caleb’s and Arlin’s mother, Mary-Anne, spent the first 13 years of her life in Chile where her father was a mining engineer. After high school and before coming to Vermont to attend UVM, she took time off to travel and teach windsurfing, rock climbing and backpacking. She and Winslow then introduced their young sons to the joys of mountain and water sports at very early ages.
In the video, Arlin describes how Caleb, with Randall and three other guides, tackled the 17,050-foot Cerro Contaderas on October 22. The climbing became highly technical above the snowbelt, so they decided to turn around before reaching the summit. There was great snow for skiing down, with Caleb in the lead. Then, “Just before they reached camp, he disappeared in a crevasse. The group was able to retrieve him, but he did not survive the fall. Just like that, it was over.” Arlin continues, “In 25 years, 180 days, Caleb’s journey was shorter than most, but filled with adventures many of us could only dream of.”
Classmates of Caleb’s from CCS and CVU then sang “El Condor Pasa,” led by Suzanne Germain, with Francesca Blanchard on guitar and Lausanne Allen on flute.
Caleb attended CCS, graduated from CVU in 2010 and from Dartmouth College in 2014 with a major in neuroscience. Many of his friends paid tribute to what an extraordinary person Caleb was, in academics as well as sports.
Tad Cooke, one of Caleb’ childhood friends, spoke of how the sharing of stories about Caleb, like a collage of snapshots, paints a portrait of their friend that provides solace, enjoyment and laughs.
To Randall Stacey, Caleb was “my closest friend, my mentor in so many things. There is no doubt in my mind that he is the reason why I’ve been able to do all of the things I’m most proud of in my life. He was my inspiration, my source of energy, and the voice in my ear telling me to push harder.”
Caleb’s Dartmouth friend Trevor Gulick-Stutze said he did not “know anyone who balances love, kindness, smarts and athleticism as well” as Caleb. He said that Caleb was really good at everything he did and “could and did push the boundaries more than anyone.” Yet there was something that always meant more to him than the next summit: who he was doing it with was more important than what he was doing. “He taught me how to live.”
Caleb’s girlfriend, Audrey Sherman, her voice choked with emotion, described “the ease of his smile, his smelly clothes, his unwavering confidence and competitiveness, his romantic side, the bottomless appetite.” She said Caleb told her often, “I love my life. It’s just so fun.” Laughter filled the room when she described him as the “ultimate sandbagger,” one who “intentionally belies or understates an activity’s difficulty through statements like ‘It’s easy. It’s not that bad. You will love it.’ Caleb is the ultimate sandbagger—it ran so deeply in his veins that it was incurable. On our first date, we went for a run and he lapped me two times on the hill from Lebanon into Hanover like an unleashed puppy. I was so tired, I couldn’t even talk.”
The picture windows behind the podium framed the cloud-covered Adirondacks. While Audrey spoke, by a ray of sunshine flowed through the windows into the sanctuary, briefly breaking the grayness of the November day.
Over a dozen more friends spoke, with one theme in particular woven through their stories: Even though Caleb was much better than they at just about everything, he never gave them the impression they were slowing him down. Instead, he helped them do their best, to meet challenges they never thought possible.
Vince Crockenberg, who emceed the program and was Caleb’s AP U.S. Government teacher at CVU during his senior year, shared a story that he called “Caleb’s Question.” That year Vince gave the graduation address, which he previewed in his three sections of AP Gov. The crux of the speech was that American citizens have an obligation to act—not all the time but at least occasionally—in ways that help create over time a more free and a more just society.
“Caleb, all six-feet four-inches of him, was sprawled out in front of me in the first row. With what seemed to be a glint in his eye and just the faintest blush of attitude, he raised his hand. ‘So, what have you done to advance liberty and equality?’ he inquired. He was the only student to ask it, and it was exactly the right question to ask. And every once in a while—more frequently lately—I find myself asking Caleb’s Question—and hoping I can provide a good and sufficient answer.”
As the celebration came to a close, Caleb’s mother, Mary-Anne, spoke. She described Caleb’s “smarts, skills, courage and charm,” and his passion for rock climbing, which bloomed at Dartmouth. Several times when she stopped by the campus to say hello she discovered that he was climbing with Randall at Rumney, New Hampshire. Mary Anne said Caleb had decided to put off medical school after graduation to concentrate on guiding and back-country skiing. That was his five-year plan. This October trip to his favorite ranges in Chile and Argentine Patagonia was part of that plan.
On behalf of Winslow, Arlin and herself, she thanked everyone in the community—friends, family, neighbors, coworkers at Thomas Chittenden Health Center—for the company, the long walks, so much food, and the heartfelt letters that had helped hold them together through the last month.
She concluded by saying that when she was asked how she would even be able speak at the ceremony, her response echoed what many others had described as Caleb’s challenge to each of them. She said, “Caleb would have said, ‘Mom, you can do it.’”
Arlin’s second video then filled the screen with beautiful scenes of Caleb doing things he loved in Vermont and beyond, from waterskiing on Lake Champlain to deep powder skiing in the mountains of the world.
The ceremony concluded with the song, “I’m On My Way,” led by Francesca Blanchard and friends, with the audience joining in the chorus.
The family invites everyone who knew Caleb to view and add to the photographs and stories about him online.